Education Policy Holds Promise to Promote Wellness & Environmental Health at School

  • July 6, 2010

 

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Parents, advocates, school nurses and educators alike agree that healthy
students are better prepared to learn — to focus in the classroom,
engage fully in activities and succeed at school. Yet it's rare to see
education policy shaped with regard to the vital connection between
health and learning.

In this era of standardized testing and No
Child Left Behind, it has become difficult for many school leaders to
make wellness a priority at school. Education policy that emphasizes the
impact of kids' health on their readiness to learn has the potential to
change that, particularly in light of the upcoming reauthorization of
the Elementary and Secondary
Education Act
(ESEA, the act currently reauthorized with the No
Child Left Behind initiative) and the nation-wide movement to end
childhood obesity embodied by First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move
campaign. 

HSC advocates for national education policy that
recognizes the role wellness and environmental health play in learning
and student achievement:

Add a “learning environment index” to
NCLB.

A new “learning environment index” requirement under the No
Child Left Behind Act is important to better measure and improve
environmental conditions in schools as part of an overall strategy to
raise student performance. Many of the schools not making adequate
yearly progress under NCLB do not have adequate facilities, safe
conditions, or school environments that support learning. A learning
environment index would identify and measure conditions that contribute
to student achievement. Schools that fail to make adequate yearly
progress would be required to show improvement on their learning
environment index, and states and districts would be required to provide
the resources to ensure that schools address the conditions identified
for improvement.

Promote health with the Blue Ribbon Schools program.
HSC
encourages the U.S. Department of Education to update the Blue Ribbon
Schools Program
to incorporate health and wellness measures into its
assessment criteria. The goal of the Blue Ribbon Schools Program is to
recognize excellence in education. Incorporating health and wellness
measures into this program would empower schools to focus on the
connection between health and learning and make wellness a priority at
school.

The federal government currently offers schools guidance
on how to promote health and wellness. For example, the USDA’s HealthierUS School Challenge
has established high standards around school food, nutrition education
and physical activity; the U.S. EPA’s Tools for Schools program provides excellent guidance for a
healthy school environment; and the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention School Health Index provides
recommendations on a range of wellness-related topics. Revising the
standards for the Blue Ribbon Schools Program to incorporate health and
wellness measures would be an important way for the Department of
Education to provide strong leadership to schools and help schools
connect with these existing resources while supporting the health and
wellness of students.

As Congress begins the reauthorization of
ESEA, we anticipate additional
opportunities for incorporating health and wellness into education
policy. Stay posted for updates!